Deuteronomy 4

Spoiler alert for the rest of the Old testament.

Moses continues his final words before they all go to the promised land without him.

He focuses on the ban against idols. He wants them not to forget about it after a few generations or they will be overrun and exiled. He says that even if that happens God’s mercy will mean they are eventually returned.  As I said, spoiler alert.

The overall message is that there is one true God who deserves obedience. It serves as an introduction to a dissertation of the law.

One true God. If he is forgotten and other gods take over, it is a disaster, but his abiding character is mercy, and he will bring us back.

Praise him!

Exodus 39

The priestly garments. Yes, they are just like God specified on the mountain. The fringe of alternating pomegranate tassels and bells is a great detail.

Moses inspects everything, this amazing collection of items lovingly made to god’s specification from freely offered materials, and blesses it. The climax of almost 10 chapters describing their effort.

Live by his word and be blessed, eh?

2 Samuel 6

I’m getting old testament fatigue again. Reading the whole Bible means reading a lot of old testament… In terms of words it’s a ratio of about 3:10. 

And OT is exhaustingly culturally remote. You figure out one fiendishly difficult chapter one day and then there is another the next. Boom boom boom. It’s tiring. 

If you forget the hard bits, this one is quite simple and wonderful and momentous. David is king over united Israel. He has established Jerusalem as the capital, now he brings the ark in, the presence of God.

And David dances like a crazy humble loon as it is carried in, one of the Bible’s most appealing visions of pure joy in the whole Bible. 

But it’s so uncomfortable that a person dies, and a woman is seemingly struck barren for getting the tone wrong. 

And what is with the ark anyway. I thought God wanted to teach mankind that he lives in or hearts, why this object of veneration?

I turned to a commentary. They saw it, interestingly as a parable for ministry. 

The first attempt to get the ark back was where someone died. They made a special cart for it … God commanded that it be carried. When it fell, the guy who died reached out to steady it. God said you can’t touch it. He should have let it fall.

David was angry with god’s over the death, and left the ark out of Jerusalem for a long time after that. 

The commentators compared it to Christians who try to do what God wants, but do it their own way. In their enthusiasm to just “get it done” they fixated too much on the task and forgot the larger point that this was about honouring God. Disobedience does not honour God. 

I remember a church I was at was obsessed with the idea that the old pews were restricting their ministry, and started pulling them out without getting the necessary legal council permission. I think that was a small example of this principle. God doesn’t need our special cart.

Death was a strong way of teaching that, you may think, but God is creator, life is in his hands, we’ve learned that over and over by now. 

The woman who was barren was Michal, who is the ultimate bit player in this story. She was Saul’s daughter and David’s first wife. She helped him escape Saul, and then was given seemingly into bigamy as wife to another king by Saul, then called back at a tense point in the civil war. 

She has strong ideas how a king ought to act and dancing with no kingly dignity with the people in few clothes was not one of them. 

But she was letting her sense of what is proper kill her enthusiasm for God, sort of the opposite of the first attempt with the ark. 

The commentators noted that it is merely an editorial comment, not linked to god’s judgement that she never had children. 

We’ve learned in this book in particular to pay attention to that… Things aren’t of God just because they are there, you have to have it spelled out. It’s more like the tone of journalism than sermon.

They saw it as an ironic or symbolic observation by the writer of 2 Samuel. Her personal story echoed a spiritual barrenness that had characterised Saul’s reign. she remained too caught up in the pomp of earthly kingship, and less excited by heavens king.

So we’re all set up for Israel’s most glorious period. But the warnings are there too. With joy in God ‘s times of rich blessing remember obedience and humility. 

1 Samuel 22

So David goes into full fugitive mode, taking his parents away to a safe haven in another country, and returning to Israel to hide out in a cave. 

Saul in full murderous paranoid mode tracks down the priests who gave David bread in the last chapter. The lie he told them disguising his falling out with the king does not wash and the king has them killed for supporting David. 

One son of the priest escapes and makes it to David who is full of regret that his lie and contact with the priest caused the deaths of the priest’s whole family. 

A rebel army of those who have an issue with the king collect around David. A rag tag army of 400. 

It’s him or Saul. 

And Saul already knows it will be David. Samuel told him chapters ago. All this murderous rage is in defiance of God.

David thought he needed to lie to live out god’s destiny. Not so. We’ll never know what would have happened if he’d not lied to the priest, but surely god is strong enough to have protected his anointed, and David would not have had the priest’s blood on his hands. 

Saul should have known that his defiance of God was futile, but shouldn’t we all, shouldn’t we all.

God’s will is done despite our faithlessness. Our task is to accept it.

1 Samuel 15

Gods regret.

God regrets making Saul king. He simply will not obey. He clings to an external works based faith, but his heart is not true.

The demonstrations here are that god decided to obliterate the amelakites. People hate this, but by this stage into the story of God and humanity I’ve accepted it is God’s right to destroy nations. Death is universal for the human race, and the timing is all God’s prerogative.

But the destruction god brings is not to advantage others. The Israelites are to destroy everything, no plunder. This Saul does not obey. And he builds a monument to himself. And keeps their king, a traditional humiliation.

He excuses it by saying “the people told me to”. And offering some of the livestock they stole as offerings to God. But of course god requires obedience. Samuel bares the news.Saul kingship is over in all  but name. Jonathon will not be king. He’ll lose it during his lifetime.

The chapter is very sad. The fate of the spared king, who old Samuel must kill, is sad… His life is misery. A nightmare “beyond the bitterness death” as he puts it.

Saul asks Samuel to go through the motions one last time to offer a public sacrifice in a joint appearance, and Samuel allows him to save face that way, but then doesn’t come to him anymore.

But Samuel grieves for Saul all his days. There is love between the men, despite the sadness of Saul’s failure.

Obedience. Being real your heart.  I am not an obedient man. Make me more obedient father. Let me live your love.

1 Samuel 13

Going though the motions. Over and over in these old testament stories it’s about how quickly religion becomes a talisman, a superstition. 

The Israelites obviously feel unguided in their role as chosen people, but god wants their hearts to be their guide, to improvise life on the theme of loving God. 

Saul is preparing for battle here and Samuel, who must be really old by now, is late to do a sacrifice before. So Saul does it. 

It’s a false move, the sacrifice is not the point the point is obedience and trust. The chapter includes Samuel’s rebuke of Saul and ends in a cliffhanger with the enemy philistines starting the attack.

Obedience sometimes requires sitting on your hands. Trust requires admitting you aren’t able to fix a problem. Doing this consistently is hard for human nature. 

But there’s no other way…

1 Samuel 6

 The philistines send the ark back to Israel. They know all about Israel’s God, how they escaped from Egypt, Jericho.  They get spiritual advice and put it on a cart with gold offerings.

It arrives in Israel during harvest with great celebration. But some of the men take the opportunity to look inside it and die. So the celebration with offerings turns into a slaughter (the number is very uncertain, between 50000 and 70. But even 70 is a terrible tragedy).

They organise for people for the temple to take it away.

This is the story of the ark, it is old testament in the stereotypical way: judgement and wrath. The ark is the powerful author of life God, who as I said yesterday, cannot be tamed. CS Lewis envisioned him as a lion, such a great image.

The people here tested God. The philistines knew of his reputation, but they thought they’d find out what happened if they took the ark. 

The Israelites have lost their religion and sent it into battle as a sort of superstition. Celebrating its return thought they’d find out what happens is you look inside, despite knowing full well that the old religions rules were that only the high priest was able to even enter its presence once per year. 

Don’t pick a fight with God. Don’t challenge him to see how strong he really is. We coast along on the doctrine of grace, letting our personal religion be hollowed out as society treats God as a joke.

Esther 3

Things take a dark turn. Haman enters the story, a high ranking trusted but ruthless official, close to the king. He demands Mordecai bow to him but he won’t, presumably because of the second commandment: there is only one God. Daniel was the same.

Haman decides to destroy all the Jews.  The king seems to accept his advice that they are a danger, and gives him his signet ring which enables Haman to issue a kill edict in the Kings name. The King must have connived at that, because he said “do with the people as you will” as he handed the ring over.

An interesting detail is that Haman was willing to pay the King for the destruction of the Jews. The king refuses the money… I dunt know if that is to his credit or not!

The chapter ends with a bitterly poignant picture, the king and Haman having a drink together but the city “bewildered”. Perhaps in sympathy, also partly perhaps they thought “there but for the grace of (an uncaring…) God go we”?

There is a moment as you read, me at least, where you blame Mordecai. You think, OK, don’t acknowledge Haman, get yourself killed, but your stubbornness has signed a death warrant for all your countrymen.

If course Haman is a nasty piece of work, vindictive, proud and arbitrarily cruel, but why not just bow to him and be done with it?

Where does one draw the line and blindly obey God, even though it will most likely provoke unjust violence not only toward yourself but collateral damage for other believers?

There is also the monstrous unfairness of it, Mordecai to be killed for not honoring the Kings representative, the King whose life he just saved in an act of abundant loyalty. Perhaps he should have let the plot to kill the king go through!

The place where you draw the line is where you sell God short. Where you betray him by acting like he means less to you than he really does. Without that, the Jews are not the Jews, and we believers today are ineffective.

And one does act for all. Mordecai had to do what he did.